Tag Archives: Joan Huffman

Police, architects testify in Senate school safety hearing

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security began its first hearing Monday with a moment of silence for the victims of school shootings. Chaired by Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the select committee was assigned by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick after Gov. Greg Abbott released a list of school safety proposals, many of which would require legislative action.

The select committee is composed of six Republicans and three Democrats, and is scheduled to meet Monday and Tuesday to discuss potential ways to prevent future school shootings like the one in Santa Fe, Texas. Monday’s agenda included considering testimony on the following:

“Improve the infrastructure and design of Texas schools to reduce security threats, and discuss various proposals to harden school facilities, including limiting access points, improving screening and detecting of weapons, retrofitting school facilities with improved locks, emergency alarm systems, and monitoring cameras.”

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath was the first witness invited to testify, and briefed members on steps the agency has taken to improve school safety. Morath noted that Santa Fe ISD was in fact one of 186 districts that received a special designation for going above and beyond school safety requirements. The commissioner added the agency has secured $62 million in additional federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which it is directing toward school safety. Morath noted that TEA lacks the authority to implement many of the governor’s proposals without specific instructions from the legislature. The state will also compete for a fraction of $75 million available through a nationally competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) discussed legislation he passed during the 2017 legislative session to provide training for school staff to identify students who may be experiencing or at risk of a mental health crisis. Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) expressed interest in this idea, albeit while expressing a concern that students’ private mental health records remain confidential. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) asked members to evaluate the current state of mental health services in Texas and consider whether adequate resources are in place.

Asked by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) whether the legislature should expand the agency’s authority to implement some of the governor’s proposals, Morath hesitated to offer an opinion. The commissioner ultimately stated that TEA is weak both in terms of capacity and regulatory authority when it comes to school safety. Morath testified TEA has only one quarter of one full-time equivalent staff member dedicated to school safety.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) suggested that local school boards are too fractious to make many school safety decisions, and suggested that TEA study the cost of implementing airport-style checkpoints in schools statewide.

The next invited witness was Christopher Huckabee, who chairs the Texas Society of Architects School Safety Workgroup. Huckabee explained how campus architecture has changed in response to school shootings going back to Columbine, such as efforts to push the public back from campus buildings and direct visitors through a single entrance. Huckabee testified that fire codes are very specific when it comes to having multiple entrances and exits for students and staff. He explained, “Even the best hardened campus are not perfect scenarios in this regard.” Chairman Taylor suggested that fire codes may need to be revisited, and the focus may need to shift away from fire safety. Sen. West asked about distinguishing between fire alarms and lockdown alarms, and Huckabee suggested schools could use an app to communicate emergency alerts via mobile devices.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) contended that implementing metal detectors is the only surefire way to prevent guns from being brought into schools in the first place. Huckabee stated the challenge to districts would primarily be one of resources, and warned students may still find ways to get around metal detectors. Chair Taylor pointed out that congestion resulting from metal detectors may create a new potential target in a large group of students awaiting entry.

San Antonio ISD Police Chief Joe Curiel led off a panel of law enforcement officers, and testified with regard to training and procedures currently in place. Chief Curiel mandated child crisis intervention training (CCIT) for all SAISD officers, which involves talking with students and building relationships in order to identify potential issues early on. Chief Curiel testified he believes identifying potential shooters is all about human intelligence.

Chair Taylor asked about the ability of law enforcement to track students’ social media accounts. Chief Curiel indicated that an officer is dedicated to assessing social media posts, but not necessarily monitoring all accounts.

Sen. Lucio asked Chief Curiel his position on whether teachers should carry guns, and how officers would respond if they encountered an armed teacher during an active shooting. Chief Curiel indicated he is neutral on the issue, but warned that “things could go wrong” if officers encountered someone who is armed when the shooter had not been identified yet. The chief also cautioned against viewing metal detectors as the sole solution, and repeated that human intelligence is the key.

“We can fortify our campuses all we want, but that does not guarantee a weapon will not be carried in,” said Chief Curiel.

Sen. Creighton pushed Chief Curiel for a firmer answer on whether adding armed teachers to the mix would save lives, providing that they were well-trained and potentially from a military or law enforcement background. Chief Curiel repeated his concern that responding officers, in particular those who don’t work at the school, would not immediately know the difference between the teacher and the active shooter.

“Having people armed within the campus would have to require a lot of training and the coordination effort that takes place when a situation like that takes place,” said Chief Curiel.

Pressed by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) to take a position on whether the potential of facing armed staff would be more of a deterrent than the baseline prohibition against firearms other than those carried by law enforcement officers, Chief Curiel stated that an individual who has determined to carry out a school shooting is not in a rational mental state and would likely make their decision without regard to district firearm policy. Chief Curiel emphasized that the department is neutral on the issue of arming teachers, and would adjust their policies and procedures to accommodate any decision the local board of trustees decides to take.

Midway ISD School Resource Officer Jeff Foley testified on the behalf of the Texas Association of School Resource Officers, and told members that programs to arm teachers, such as the school marshals program, may be beneficial to rural districts where law enforcement may not be able to quickly respond. On the other hand, he expressed concern over such programs in urban and suburban schools that have law enforcement personnel assigned to the campus.

Mike Matranga, Executive Director for Security and School Safety at Texas City ISD, said no school can be 100 percent secured. More importantly, he said, is addressing students’ mental health needs. Matranga indicated he believes the larger issue is one of weakening social values, a lack of personal responsibility and children lacking appropriate avenues to channel their frustration. Matranga suggested that many civilian school boards lack the expertise to make the most informed decisions regarding school security, and opined that hiring an additional police officer would be better than a school marshal. Matranga contended teachers play a different, albeit equally important, role.

“Our teachers are our first line of defense,” said Matranga, emphasizing the role of teachers in identifying kids who are having problems. Yet pointing to the state of school funding, Matranga acknowledged that the state is asking teachers to do more each year without adequate compensation.

Public testimony began with metal detector industry respresentatives. Their testimony focused on the real and perceived benefits of metal detectors, such as their potential to discourage potential criminals. One witness argued that x-ray machines are a larger cause of congestion than metal detectors, which can come in the form of either walkthrough units or handheld wands. The speed of detection can vary depending upon sensitivity and the procedure used for checking people who set off alerts.

The committee will meet again Tuesday morning to consider the following charge:

“Improve the infrastructure and design of Texas schools to reduce security threats, and discuss various proposals to harden school facilities, including limiting access points, improving screening and detecting of weapons, retrofitting school facilities with improved locks, emergency alarm systems, and monitoring cameras.”

Members will hear invited testimony on these topics, and members of the public will be limited to two minutes of testimony.

Why March 6 Matters: Payroll Deduction

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at payroll deduction.


Politicians like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) have led the effort for two sessions now to make it more difficult for educators to join professional associations such as ATPE by attempting to ban educators from voluntarily deducting membership dues from their paychecks. Gov. Greg Abbott added his support ahead of last year’s special session when he followed Patrick’s lead in deeming the issue a “priority.”

Proponents have marketed payroll deduction bills as an effort to keep the government from collecting “union dues” with taxpayer resources. The truth is that it isn’t about unions or taxpayer resources at all; it’s about educators.

Consider this: The major bills on this topic have explicitly singled out educators, regardless of union status — but exempted major unions representing other public employees. These bills would actually have a greater impact on NON-union professional associations such as ATPE, and they specifically protect other public employee professionals who are members of unions that collectively bargain. Collective bargaining is illegal for school employees, and no one in Texas is forced to join a union or pay union dues thanks to our right-to-work laws.That’s why the legislative efforts to make it harder for educators to spend their own money to voluntarily join a professional association are so misguided here in Texas.

Further evidence of the politically motivated nature of these bills is the fact that payroll deduction of professional dues does not cost the state or taxpayers anything. That’s a fact that authors of the bills were finally forced to concede during the 2017 legislative sessions but other politicians have continued to ignore. Payroll offices exist regardless of whether association membership dues is among the long list of optional deductions available to public employees. Those other deductions include things like taxes, insurance, newspapers, health clubs, and charitable donations. Furthermore, a school district can even charge associations a fee if it determines there is any additional cost associated with deducting dues for the group’s members. (See Texas Education Code, Section 22.001.)


During debate on the issue last year, bill author Sen. Joan Huffman said she was comfortable exempting certain public employees deemed “first responders” because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Educators — just like firefighters, police officers, and EMS professionals — are public servants and everyday heroes. In the wake of last week’s tragic news stories of the horrific violence that took place at a Florida high school, it is hard to imagine educators, many of whom took bullets or sheltered their students to protect them from the gunfire, would be considered anything other than first responders who serve their communities with great honor and distinction.

The real goal behind discriminatory payroll deduction bills like these is to weaken the combined influence of educators (as well as public education supporters as a whole) at the Texas Capitol by attacking their ability to conveniently and safely support professional associations that fight to ensure teachers have a seat at the table when it comes to setting public education policy at the state level.

There are elected officials and candidates who respect your profession, and there are those who don’t — and who are already attempting to weaken your voice. Bills like these aimed at silencing educators at the Capitol will certainly be filed again in 2019. If Texans don’t turn out in force during the 2018 elections and select more officeholders who value educators and respect their service, those bills will become law and more of the doors of government will be closed to educators.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on payroll deduction and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting in the primary and making informed choices at the polls. Keep in mind that it is illegal to use school district resources to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, but there is no prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 7, 2017

It was another big week at the Texas Capitol. Here’s the latest news from ATPE:


The Texas House passed its version of the general state budget bill in the early morning hours of April 7 after nearly 16 hours of lively debate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 provides for appropriations for state needs over the next two fiscal years. It also sends a strong message about attitudes in the House toward private school vouchers.

As approved unanimously by the Senate on March 28, the $106.3 billion bill provided for school enrollment growth and needs of the Foundation School Program, but did little to address the looming funding crisis for TRS-Care or add any additional support for public education to offset cuts from recent years. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), substituted its own language into the bill during a March 29 committee hearing, and then the House considered hundreds of additional amendments in yesterday’s floor debate.

Lobbyists at budget debate

ATPE Lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann, Mark Wiggins, and Monty Exter awaited the House’s budget vote Thursday night.

As finally passed, the House’s version of SB 1 creates a $218.2 billion budget, which includes tapping into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) to the tune of $2.5 billion to help address critical needs like an extra $500 million for retired educators’ rising healthcare costs. The final House vote on the bill was 131-16, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for accessing the rainy day funds.

Leading into yesterday’s floor debate, the House Calendars Committee had already adopted a “put and take” rule requiring that any amendment to the budget that proposed spending more money in one area must cut an equal or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. That rule resulted in several heated arguments among House members as representatives looked to raid each other’s favored programs for funding sources.

Voucher vote boardWithout question, though, the most dramatic votes of the night included multiple votes taken to prohibit the funding of private school vouchers. The House first considered Amendment #8 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) to prohibit the use of certain state funds provided to the Comptroller for private school vouchers. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) filed Amendment #9, an amendment to Herrero’s amendment, to ensure that the legislature could not spend any public funds on private school vouchers. ATPE supported both of these amendments, which the House passed overwhelmingly. Freshman Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) offered another amendment #10 to try to carve out an exception that would allow the legislature to fund vouchers for low-income families, but the House similarly rejected that measure by tabling the Cain amendment. View the unofficial vote breakdown for these amendments here. ATPE thanks all the legislators who voted to prevent the legislature from wasting taxpayer dollars on unregulated private and home schools and appreciates all the educators who took time to contact their legislators about these important votes.

The House budget votes this week spell disaster for the voucher legislation heavily favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. The primary voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), passed the Senate on March 30 by an 18 to 13 vote. Leaders in the House including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty had already expressed doubt that the voucher bill would survive after being sent to the lower chamber. Yesterday’s budget votes punctuate that sentiment, evidencing a clear lack of support for vouchers this session in the Texas House. For more on the significance of yesterday’s voucher-related budget votes, read this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills dealing with special education and also approved a bill aimed at improving the state’s much-criticized A-through-F accountability system for school campuses. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee unanimously passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 22 on Tuesday.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 11, with a lengthy agenda. Its Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, April 10, to consider several bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. ATPE will be there to weigh in on bills of interest, of course. Stay tuned for more details next week on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met this week. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the April 6 meeting and provided this report.

First, TRS investment managers shared news that the overall pension fund is performing considerably well despite economic uncertainty leading up to the 2016 elections. The fund is actuarially sound and has enough money to pay for its retirement benefit obligations until 2048.

The board meeting also addressed cyberattack prevention and defense measures being undertaken by the TRS staff. With cybersecurity threats dominating the news lately, TRS has been taking the necessary steps to secure members’ information by implementing safeguards that would prevent any cyberattackers from gaining access to the TRS system. Hackers are becoming bolder and using every method to gain access to vital information such as Social Security and bank information, but TRS staff along with security vendors are working to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals.

Finally, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided the board with a legislative update. Mr. Guthrie explained that he and his staff are tracking various bills and working closely with certain legislative offices on specific pieces of legislation that are of concern. One such bill is Senate Bill (SB) 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) that would reform TRS-Care. The bill sparked some discussion at Thursday’s board meeting because of sweeping changes it proposes, including the elimination of TRS-Care 1, 2, and 3. As it’s currently written, SB 788 would require a high-deductible plan for participants under the age of 65 and a Medicare Advantage plan for anyone eligible for Medicare.  Mr. Guthrie indicated that he would continue to work with the stakeholders to ensure that retirees feel a minimal impact, but agreed that something needed to be done this session because of the increasing healthcare costs.

ATPE members can find additional information about TRS bills being considered this session by logging into Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a blog update on this week’s work by the Senate Education Committee. Its deliberations included some controversial bills relating to home school students and charter school partnerships. Read more in Kate’s post here.

Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs heard SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) to address the growing problem of cyberbullying. ATPE supports the bill, which has been named David’s Law in memory of San Antonio teenager David Molak who tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied. The bill calls for tougher civil and criminal penalties for those who use electronic messaging to urge victims to commit suicide, and provides for prompt response and notifications when school officials learn about cyberbullying incidents.

 


 

Senate approves anti-educator SB 13 on party line vote

On Wednesday, March 29, the full Texas Senate took up Senate Bill (SB) 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) to prohibit educators and a few other groups of public employees from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. The ATPE-opposed bill prompted two hours of robust floor debate before senators voted to approve the bill on second reading by a party line vote of 20 to 11. ATPE thanks those senators who voted against SB 13 and especially those who spoke so eloquently on behalf of the education community during the debate.

SB13_vote_2nd_reading

Eight floor amendments were considered, but the only one added was by the bill’s author, Sen. Huffman, to allow school resource officers to continue to have their association and union dues deducted. As we reported Tuesday, representatives of the law enforcement community took to social media on the eve of the debate complaining that Sen. Huffman had misled them about all law enforcement personnel being exempted from SB 13. As passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee, the bill would exempt most police, fire, and EMS personnel, but police officers employed by a school district would lose their dues deduction rights. Huffman, who chairs the State Affairs committee, corrected that by adding a floor amendment Wednesday to exempt school resources officers from SB 13, too.

Several Democratic senators filed floor amendments to try to exempt more public employees, such as educators and CPS workers, from the bill so that they could continue to take advantage of the convenience of payroll deduction. ATPE was mentioned several times during the debate, with some senators reading excerpts from a letter that ATPE had sent to all legislators opposing the bill and several references to ATPE members who testified during the committee’s Feb. 13 public hearing. However, Sen. Huffman objected to any expansion of the first responder exemptions in her bill and moved to table each of the amendments. Responding, for example, to an attempt by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) to exempt educators from the bill by characterizing them as “first responders,” too, Huffman continued to draw a distinction, arguing that teachers “don’t put their lives on the line” every day when going to work. All floor amendments except Huffman’s own were voted down on the same 20 to 11 party line vote.

TRTA_lobbydayIronically, the Senate’s vote on the anti-educator payroll deduction bill took place only hours after the Senate had recognized retired teachers who were sitting in the gallery and visiting the Capitol for their association’s lobby day yesterday. Many of the senators who spoke about their love for teachers and how much their own lives had been shaped by teachers in public schools were the same senators who only hours later voted for SB 13 in an obvious attempt to weaken the associations that advocate for teachers every day.

Asked about the political motives behind her bill, Sen. Huffman defended her love for teachers and claimed that “lobbyists” and the media were responsible for all of the misleading rhetoric against SB 13. She stated that she hoped educator associations like ATPE would find creative ways to work around the payroll deduction prohibition in the future to accommodate members who are unable to pay their dues in a lump sum or with a credit card or checking account debit. Pressed further by her Democratic colleagues to explain what the policy rationale was for SB 13, Sen. Huffman would merely say that the bill would address “inefficiencies” by getting the government out of the business of collecting dues. Most of the debate centered around Huffman’s controversial decision to exclude certain groups from the bill, apparently based on the nature of their political activities. The author of SB 13 stated multiple times that she was not comfortable allowing public employee groups that “harass employers” to benefit from payroll deduction, but she could not cite a specific example of such harassment.

ThinkstockPhotos-187006771-USCapWith SB 13 being approved on second reading, the Senate will still have to take another vote on the bill for final passage, which would send it next to the Texas House for its consideration. That Senate vote on third reading is likely to take place today, and a similar vote outcome is anticipated. The Senate is also planning to consider SB 3, the lieutenant governor’s high-priority private school voucher bill, on today’s calendar. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates and be sure to follow us on Twitter for real-time developments.

Senate signals intent to vote on divisive voucher and payroll deduction bills

Two bills staunchly opposed by the education community are likely to be heard by the full Texas Senate as early as Wednesday, March 29. The voucher bill, Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R-Houston) SB 13, which would eliminate educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their association dues, both landed on the Senate’s Intent Calendar this week. Under current Senate rules, three-fifths of the senators present must still vote to allow the bills to be debated.

No Vouchers No SB3SB 3 has been identified as one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th Legislature. It creates two forms of private school vouchers: a corporate tax credit for funding scholarships to private schools and an Education Savings Account (ESA) program that gives parents public funds to spend on their children’s home or private schooling expenses. ATPE members have long opposed all forms of vouchers for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that private and home schools are unregulated and would not have to account for how they spend those public tax dollars.

STOP2The payroll deduction bill, SB 13, is also on the lieutenant governor’s broader list of legislative priorities this session. Often referred to by its backers as a bill dealing with “union dues,” the bill primarily targets educators by taking away their right to deduct voluntary association dues payments from their paychecks. ATPE members make up one of the largest groups of public employees negatively affected by the bill, even though ATPE is not affiliated with any national labor unions, exists only in Texas, supports small business and the right to work, and opposes union-favored tactics such as collective bargaining, strikes, and work stoppages. SB 13 specifically carves out exceptions for police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers who use payroll deduction for their dues to associations and even unions that collectively bargain. Those distinctions between classes of public employees have angered many in the education community and even some lawmakers. Educators and other critics of the bill have also disputed false claims that “taxpayer resources” are being spent on the collection of union or association dues, since there is no evidence of any cost to taxpayers resulting from offering school employees the convenience of payroll deduction that is already used for a host of services, purchases, and donations.

Despite the growing opposition to SB 3 and SB 13, the House’s lack of appetite for wasting time on political battles, and the gaping holes in the logic behind these measures, Gov. Greg Abbott has voiced support for both of these pieces of anti-public education legislation.

Reports surfaced today that backers of the voucher bill are planning to introduce substitute language on the Senate floor that will reduce the bill’s hefty fiscal note and attempt to garner support from some rural Republican senators who have voiced concerns about SB 3. Even if the Senate advances the highly controversial bill, leaders in the House have called the voucher legislation “dead.”

Also today, members of the law enforcement community voiced complaints that the anti-educator SB 13 will similarly harm some members of the law enforcement community, too. On Twitter, an advocacy organization representing police officers said that they had been “publicly misled” about the bill’s impact, noting that it will also prevent thousands of school resource officers from deducting their dues payments:

 

ATPE’s positions on these and other bills are guided by the ATPE Legislative Program adopted by ATPE members every year. ATPE members believe that private school voucher legislation like SB 3 is an irresponsible waste of taxpayer resources. This is particularly true now, when public schools have struggled to recover from massive budget cuts in recent years, state appropriations have lagged, and local taxpayers have been forced to bear an unwieldy share of the funding burden for public education through property taxes while the state’s share of the funding has declined steadily. ATPE has opposed SB 13 and similar bills that would take away educators’ payroll deduction rights, especially when other public employees would continue to enjoy those rights. Allowing educators to deduct their association dues results in no additional cost to taxpayers, and the bills are widely regarded as politically motivated efforts to weaken educator associations and lessen their future influence over other types of education legislation, such as voucher bills.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE encourages educators to contact their senators about both SB 3 and SB 13, urging them to oppose these bills. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to find contact information for their lawmakers along with quick and easy tools for communicating with them.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 17, 2017

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:

 


FU5A8721_SB13hearing

ATPE members were at the State Capitol Monday morning to express opposition to Senate Bill 13, an anti-educator bill aimed at weakening educator associations by doing away with payroll deduction options for certain public employees who join associations or unions.

This week, the Senate State Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill (SB) 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who is also that committee’s chairwoman. The bill aims to prevent educators and a handful of other public employees from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues, a longstanding practice that costs taxpayers nothing.

Huffman’s bill carves out a special exemption for fire, police, and EMS employees, allowing them to continuing using payroll deduction for their dues. That decision to favor some public employees over others is not sitting well with many public servants both in and out of the bill, as well as several of the legislators being asked to act upon the issue this session.

FU5A8751_SB13hearingDozens of ATPE members traveled to Austin on Monday, Feb. 13, to attend and testify at the SB 13 hearing. Read more about their testimony in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday from earlier this week. The pleas by educators and others were not enough to stop the committee from moving the bill forward, which happened yesterday on a party line vote. For more on this high-profile battle over public employee associations and unions, check out today’s column by Ross Ramsey, Executive Editor of the Texas Tribune, which is also republished here on Teach the Vote.

As Ramsey notes, the debate over SB 13 “isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.” ATPE agrees, and points out that political motives driving this bill aren’t even necessarily union-focused, especially since the bill creates exceptions for some union members. Backers of SB 13 say they are targeting the groups they perceive to be opponents of Republican candidates and supporters of state and federal legislation that would hurt businesses. In reality though, the largest group affected by the bill is ATPE – a non-union entity that exists only in Texas and gets no money from national or out-of-state affiliates. Furthermore, as ATPE members and lobbyists have pointed out in testimony and one-on-one discussions with lawmakers, our organization has not involved itself in business-related legislation and has always made bipartisan contributions to candidates and officeholders through our political action committee, which is not in any way funded with dues dollars.

If, as Ramsey describes it, the SB 13 debate boils down to picking “good eggs and bad eggs,” it is becoming abundantly clear that in the minds of many lawmakers and business groups, educators are the bad eggs.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-162674067-pillsThe 85th Legislature is considering some dramatic changes to healthcare options for educators. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has written an analysis of a bill that would result in a major restructuring of TRS-ActiveCare, the primary healthcare program for actively employed educators in Texas. Read more about Senate Bill 789 and the changes being considered in this blog post.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) wants to hear from educators about potential changes to educator certification, particularly for teachers of early childhood students. We invite educators to take TEA’s survey between now and Feb. 24, especially if you teach in an elementary grade and might be affected by these changes under consideration. Learn more about the background of the issue and find a survey link in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post.

 


tea-logo-header-2School districts and charter schools around Texas received notice of their 2016-17 accreditation status from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Factors that count toward a determination of accreditation status include academic and financial accountability ratings, program effectiveness, and compliance with education laws and rules. Nearly all (98%) of the state’s school districts received a fully “Accredited” status. Nine districts or charters were “Accredited-Warned,” seven received an “Accredited-Probation” status, two were marked as “Not Accredited-Revoked,” and one district is still “Pending.” Learn more from TEA here.

 


Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates on legislative developments next week. ATPE members are also urged to visit Advocacy Central to learn more about specific bills and send messages to their lawmakers about priority issues like payroll deduction, private school vouchers, testing, healthcare, and more.

TRS healthcare bill offers fewer options, no savings

Drugs and MoneyLast fall, ATPE reported on an interim legislative study of healthcare programs administered through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Now that the 85th legislative session is in full swing, we’ve had a chance to see actual legislation pursuing some of the dramatic proposals outlined in that interim report. The primary vehicle for these changes would be Senate Bill (SB) 789  by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which seeks to reorganize TRS-ActiveCare, the current health insurance program for many of our state’s actively employed educators.

Under current law, all school districts that did not previously opt out of TRS-ActiveCare offer their employees access to two health insurance options through ActiveCare: one high-deductible plan and one traditional plan featuring co-insurance and co-payments. The state contributes $75 per employee toward the monthly premiums associated with either plan and requires school districts to cover an additional $150 per employee towards premiums; many districts cover more than the minimum $150 contribution that is required, however.

If passed, SB 789 would limit districts that may participate in TRS-ActiveCare to those with 1,000 or fewer employees or fewer. The bill would also eliminate the traditional co-payment insurance plan option, leaving only the high-deductible option for employees who remain covered through ActiveCare. The bill also would give those districts with fewer than 1,000 employees another one-time opportunity to voluntarily opt out of TRS-ActiveCare.

SB 789 does not increase the amount of money the state will be spending toward employee health care premiums, nor does it increase the requirement for the amount that districts must spend toward those premiums. This is significant because compared to the private sector, our state’s employer contribution (the combination of state and district payments) toward public education employees’ health care premium cost is dramatically underfunded. When the TRS healthcare program was started years ago, the ISD/state contribution was in line with average private sector employer contributions. However, as private business has worked to keep pace with healthcare inflation, the state has never increased its contribution on behalf of school employees.

Falling US MoneyIt is also worth noting that SB 789 does not save the state any money. TRS-ActiveCare is considered a pass-through program. That means the state puts in a fixed amount of money and any increases in premiums get passed directly down to educators for them to cover. Restructuring ActiveCare as proposed in Sen. Huffman’s bill will not change this dynamic. The state pays the same amount and any changes in overall premium costs will only impact educators.

Thus, SB 786 takes away choices without saving educators money. The cost for the new high-deductible plan is estimated to be more expensive than the cost of the high-deductible plan offered under the current system. While premiums for this new high-deductible plan may be slightly less than the cost for the traditional co-pay plan under the current system, the premium combined with out-of-pocket costs for educators could very likely be more. Additionally, educators who have currently selected the traditional co-pay plan have voluntarily chosen to pay a higher premium at no additional cost to the state and no required additional cost to the district. Taking away this option without any resulting savings to either the school district or the state makes little sense.

For the 82 school districts that will be required to exit ActiveCare if this bill passes, their administrative costs will increase. Those districts will now have to hire additional personnel to administer an employee healthcare plan at the district level. That additional cost will in turn reduce the amount of money these districts will have to spend in the classroom on other needs. The same will be true of any districts that voluntarily opt out of ActiveCare because they prefer to offer their employees the option of more than one health insurance plan.

SB 789 decreases benefit options for educators while increasing district expenses, and it does so without increasing state support to educators, lowering the healthcare cost for educators, or decreasing the cost to state taxpayers. Therefore, we can find no reason for ATPE to support this bill.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: A window into who Texas legislators’ favorite employees are

Lawmakers want to stop deducting dues for union and non-union employee associations from state paychecks — but only for the employees they disagree with. 

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State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, the chairwoman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, listened to testimony during a Sept. 14, 2016, committee meeting. Photo: Marjorie Kamys Cotera

The union dues bill is a great example of the difference between an ideological piece of legislation and a case of lawmakers just picking favorites.

Texas allows state and government employees to deduct the dues for their unions and employee association from their paychecks — an automatic payment that improves collections and retains members for those groups and that saves the employees the trouble of writing checks or sending payments every month. It doesn’t cost the state anything; the groups that benefit pay the processing costs.

The governor had a line about stopping the practice in his state of the state speech a few weeks ago. The lieutenant governor put Sen. Joan Huffman’s legislation against the practice on his list of priorities, giving it a low number — Senate Bill 13 — and a fast ride through the process. The Senate State Affairs Committee voted it out on Thursday. The full Senate will get the next look. Two years ago, similar legislation passed in the Senate and then died in the House at the end of session.

Republicans like the bill, and it’s not hard to figure out why. It zings teacher and trade unions that often favor Democrats, and it’s a crowd-pleaser for conservative audiences. Groups like the Texas branch of the National Federation of Independent Business favor the legislation, too, saying the dues checkoff enables their legislative foes and has no public purpose.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

But the bill wouldn’t end the practice of allowing public employees to pay their dues automatically through a payroll deduction — a detail that undermines the argument that this is about unburdening state and local payroll clerks.

Like the legislation that failed two years ago, Huffman’s bill would allow police, fire and emergency responders to keep their payroll deductions in place. Teachers would be cut out, as would prison guards, social workers and other public employees.

Legislators are selective in their scorn: Some public employees are easier to kick than others.

Lawmakers who don’t think the state ought to be collecting dues for employee unions and associations would be voting to end the practice. On the other hand, if you just want to bust unions and associations that tend to vote for the other party, outlaw it for them but leave your own supporters alone.

It’s a modern spoils bill, rewarding public employees thought to support the people in charge and punishing dissenters.

State law already prevents payroll deductions for political purposes — the union and non-union associations collecting these dues can’t use that money for the political action committees or for other political expenses. But the groups frankly admit that without the automatic payments, they’d lose some members. They like painless payments for the same reason streaming media companies and other subscription services like them: If people don’t have to write checks or consider payments every month, they’re more like to remain enrolled.

The debate is coming earlier in the session this time around, increasing chances that lawmakers will hear a full argument on the merits before the end of the session.

The exceptions could be the most interesting part of the fight. Instead of a straight-up argument over whether and when public workers should be allowed to sign up for payroll deductions for this or that, this is shaping up as a debate over which public workers should have the privilege — a debate over good eggs and bad eggs.

All lawmakers like first responders and want to be seen as supporting them. They all love education but some of them don’t like teachers, especially when they form groups that lobby on their behalf. Lots of lawmakers have remarkably low regard for their own employees, the workforce they deride as the bureaucracy.

When the session is over, voters will have a good look at how those groups rank with their lawmakers. Even if the dues bill passes, Texas will still have payroll deductions for union and non-union employee groups — but only for the groups that have found favor with or that are feared by the people in elected state office.

This isn’t about the paychecks. It’s about the politics.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/02/17/analysis-window-who-texas-legislators-favorite-employees-are/.
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Senate committee hears from dozens opposed to payroll deduction bill

On Monday, Feb. 13, the Senate Committee on State Affairs, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), conducted a public hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 13, Huffman’s own bill to eliminate the rights of some public employees to use payroll deduction for voluntary association dues. Dozens of ATPE members traveled to Austin to attend the hearing. Among the many witnesses who testified against SB 13 were ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, State President Julleen Bottoms, State Vice President Carl Garner, State Secretary Byron Hildebrand, and State Treasurer Tonja Grey.

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Early in the hearing, Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) questioned the bill’s author on why she chose to file a bill that would prohibit payroll deduction by some public employees (such as educators, correctional officers, and CPS workers) while exempting fire, police, and EMS employees from the prohibition. “I just think it’s problematic to say this group of people does it this way and this group of people does it that way,” Sen. Estes said, noting that he would prefer to see a bill without an exception for first responders that would apply equally to all public employees. “Why?” Estes asked the bill’s author about the discriminatory impact of her bill.

 

In response to the questions from Estes and her other fellow senators, Chairwoman Huffman explained that she was comfortable excluding law enforcement and emergency personnel from the bill because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Huffman added that groups representing first responders don’t interfere with “business issues,” which was a complaint raised by a pair of business lobbyists who testified against SB 13.

It is not clear what type of “business interference” the supporters of this bill believe ATPE has been guilty of organizing. The examples cited by a representative of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) were federal minimum wage and equal pay laws that she claimed unions were opposing nationally. ATPE has not taken a position on any such legislation in Washington, and ATPE’s Godsey pointed out in his testimony that our organization has been supportive of business. “We love small business,” Godsey emphasized to the committee. “We have never spent one dime lobbying against small business.”

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Sens. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) asked a number of questions during the hearing about why this bill was needed. They illustrated, for example, that no school board members or superintendents have complained about the current law requiring districts to let educators deduct association dues from their paychecks. Several of the teachers who testified during Monday’s hearing pointed out that their school leaders were supportive of leaving the current law alone and letting school employees continue the practice of using payroll deduction for their association dues. ATPE State President Bottoms, for example, noted that her own superintendent had even traveled to Austin Monday to support her appearance at the SB 13 hearing.

Although not a member of the committee, Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) also sat in on the hearing and  asked a number of questions about why the bill targets certain associations while allowing payroll deductions for other purposes, such as insurance premiums and taxes. ATPE appreciates the support of those senators from both parties who have taken issue with SB 13, principally for the discriminatory message that it sends to hardworking educators and the fact that the bill is wholly unnecessary. It solves no identified problems and does not produce any cost savings to the state. Interestingly, Chairwoman Huffman conceded during her opening remarks about SB 13 that there are no taxpayer costs associated with public employees using payroll deduction for their association dues. In admitting this, Huffman openly contradicted recent claims by both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott that this legislation would prevent “taxpayer resources” from being used to collect union dues.

While the committee heard testimony from numerous ATPE members and other educators on Monday, members of the law enforcement community were also on hand to express opposition to SB 13. Even though law enforcement officials are currently exempted from Huffman’s bill, they nevertheless urged lawmakers not to discriminate against teachers and expressed disappointment that the Senate was even hearing such a bill as SB 13. ATPE sincerely appreciates the support of police, fire, and EMS employee associations to defeat this unnecessary bill.

Click here to watch archived video of the hearing. Sen. Huffman’s introduction of SB 13 begins at the 13:45 mark during the broadcast. The testimony on this bill begins at 1:11:28 during the broadcast. Also, visit ATPE’s Facebook page for video highlights and links to news reports about the hearing. ATPE members are urged to continue calling and writing to their legislators about SB 13 and its House counterpart, House Bill 510. For additional resources on communicating with lawmakers, check out ATPE’s Advocacy Central.

Hearing

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 10, 2017

We’re gearing up for a big hearing on an anti-educator bill next week at the Texas State Capitol. Here’s more news for you to know:

 


The Senate Committee on State Affairs is set to hear Senate Bill 13 on Monday, Feb. 13. The bill by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who also chairs the committee, would ban educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues, while protecting other public employees’ rights to do the same for their association or union membership dues.

Both the governor and lieutenant governor have prioritized passing a bill to end payroll deduction for what they misleadingly refer to as a use of “taxpayer resources to collect union dues.” ATPE has pointed out that no taxpayer resources are required for the processing of dues deductions. We’ve also shown that the bills being pushed forward, Huffman’s SB 13 and the identical House Bill 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-West University Hills), actually punish many educators who join non-union groups while protecting the right of other public employees to continue to deduct their dues, even for unions.

STOP2In a press release issued by ATPE this week, Executive Director Gary Godsey highlighted the political motive behind the bills: “If fewer educators are able to join a professional organization, it will be harder for groups like ATPE to fight back when lawmakers try to privatize Texas public schools or cut teachers’ pay and benefits.” ATPE is urging educators who are concerned about this attempt to shut down their future advocacy efforts on behalf of the education profession and the students they serve to contact their legislators. Several ATPE members plan to attend Monday’s hearing and visit legislative offices that day to share their opposition to SB 13.

“The legislators supporting these bills are trying to shut teachers up, and we won’t stand for it,” said ATPE’s Godsey. “How teachers spend their paycheck should be their decision and theirs alone.”

 


Members of the Texas House of Representatives received their committee assignments this week for the 85th legislative session. Two of the most important committees for education-related concerns – the House Committees on Appropriations and Public Education – have new leaders as a result of the retirement of legislators who chaired those committees before. Read more about which legislators will be playing pivotal roles this session in steering education-related bills through the legislative process.

 


The U.S. Senate voted to confirm Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday in an unprecedented cabinet confirmation that required Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie breaking vote. Senators were literally split on her confirmation; two Republican Senators joined all Democrats in opposing her nomination, which resulted in a 50-50 tie. Vice President Pence’s favorable vote sealed her confirmation. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports on the vote and shares ATPE’s response here.

On the other side of the Capitol that same day, the U.S. House voted to overturn two Obama administration regulations dealing with accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and teacher preparation, respectively. ATPE’s Kuhlmann has reported on the release of both regulations (accountability here and teacher preparation here) and mentioned the uncertain future of many recently finalized regulations under the new Congress and Trump administration. These measures must still get through the U.S. Senate before going to President Trump’s desk for a signature, but should they, newly confirmed Secretary DeVos would oversee the implementation of any new regulations

 


NO VOUCHERSStop us if you’ve heard this one. Among Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th legislative session is enacting private school vouchers. His signature voucher legislation for 2017 is Senate Bill 3, being carried by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who also chairs a Senate Education Committee stacked with voucher proponents. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter offers an in-depth look at what’s in SB 3, how voucher funds could be used under the Senate’s proposal, and the many opportunities for perverse results. Learn more in this blog post.